When I joined Gloucestershire Police’s 999 response teams earlier this month, I thought I’d know what to expect. As a former Special Constable (admittedly not within the County), I thought that while processes or procedures would be a little different, generally speaking it was the chance to speak to our frontline officers on their home turf that would be the main benefit for me, rather than experiencing the ‘jobs’ they were attending.
I was wrong.
I was staggered by how ‘vulnerability’ played a part in every call we attended. Whether it was related to domestic abuse, criminal damage, threats or mental health, I think every 999 call the officers I accompanied responded to, and a great deal of the ones I heard on the radio too, included some element of vulnerability. I certainly don’t recall hearing the number of “Concerns for Welfare” calls on the radio when I was a Special Constable with the Metropolitan Police that I heard on patrol with officers in Gloucester.
Of course I’ve heard this raised in multi-agency meetings, and officers I’ve spoken to when visiting stations talk about it too, but there really is no substitute for seeing and hearing it for yourself. It brought home to me the value of partnership working. I’m a strong believer in experiencing and understanding the realities that teams are facing and using that to inform and provide insight to decision-making. I don’t believe that there is any point in sitting at a desk and opining on things, without at least some understanding of what it is like on the ground, and trusting the insight of those that are on the front-line, day-in, day out. It’s a little bit of humility that, challenging as it can be to fit into a busy schedule, I think is important for all those in leadership positions to show every so often.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to hold to account, or provide constructive challenge. In fact I think it provides another angle from which to ask questions. Questions such as how can working with the right professionals, with the right skill-sets get the sort of support that these vulnerable people need and at a time that’s right for them? Where are the opportunities for early intervention? Where can a partnership approach, shared understanding and training improve the service that we are all able to provide to the people of Gloucestershire? How can early intervention prevent such calls getting to the acute stage which requires a 999 response? Finding answers to these questions, are the key points that I have taken away from these shifts. It really brought home to me the value (and frankly the necessity) of partnership working and taking the public health approach to crime prevention.
What are euphemistically called ‘high intensity users’ in management speak, rarely need the support of just one service, and while they may have come into contact with the criminal justice system, with the right intervention, we may be able to prevent reoffending and prevent more people becoming victims.
What else did I learn? Well, the additional 300 police constables and police community support officers that we are bringing to the front-line of policing in Gloucestershire are much needed – especially in our rural areas.
Again, I have been regularly told this in meetings, but being able to see the pressure on teams for myself is eye-opening. The intensity and complexity of calls coming to police mean that we need to see proper investment in the Constabulary’s most valuable asset, its people. By building capacity, as outlined in our plans for investment, we will be able to ensure that victims of crime receive the service they deserve and the proactive work that both officers and communities want to see takes place with more regularity. We also need to make sure that we are making the best use of those officers’ time, by looking both at processes and technology and removing some of the administrative burdens that are placed on them. The productivity review that the OPCC and Constabulary have recently agreed, should hopefully flush out some of the areas where, either the Constabulary’s own processes, or those of our partners in the criminal jus
tice system, are able to be slimmed down, or completed faster thanks to effective use of technology. My last observation, isn’t so much something that I learned during my recent shifts, but something that they emphasised; and that is that Gloucestershire’s police officers are incredibly hard working and totally committed to their job. I was surprised at how many have left other careers and taken pay cuts to join the police and run towards danger, to deal with some of the most challenging situations in life. The number of times officers would end a conversation with the statement “but I absolutely love my job”, even when the exchange before that would suggest anything but, showed me how fortunate we are to have such motivated people serving our communities